Quarterly Employment Bulletin – December 2013
As we approach the Christmas Season it is appropriately Dickensian for Solicitors to mutter humbug and warn of the pitfalls of the staff Christmas party. Whilst the purpose of a staff party is to boost morale and foster team spirit, if not handled properly the reverse affect can be achieved and an employer exposed to potential claims.
Be careful not to discriminate or harass on the grounds of religion. If you have a diverse workforce do not insist all staff attend or do not promote the event as a Christmas party.
Beware of out of hours parties which may prejudice full and part time staff with family commitments.
Attempts to boost morale may be compromised if a staff party is held at a venue that is not easily accessible by employees with a disability or capable of causing offence to staff of a particular religious belief or gender. Location for the party should therefore be easily accessible and without capacity to offend.
Employers should be wary of putting on free alcohol for staff. Not only are they potentially vicariously liable for the actions of drunken employees, employees subsequently dismissed for drunken misconduct may be able to successfully argue that the employers supply of alcohol encouraged or condoned their behaviour.
Beware the Mistletoe
Employees are likely to be considered to be in the course of their employment at a staff party. This leaves an employer vulnerable to claims of harassment and discrimination for inappropriate comments and behaviour.
Whilst the specific statutory provisions covering harassment by third parties were repealed at the start of October 2013, a failure to deal with inappropriate behaviour by customers and suppliers or allowing their conduct to create an offensive or humiliating environment, may still lead an employer open to claims.
If you are asking staff to bring a Secret Santa gift or engage in a Secret Santa scheme, take steps to ensure that staff do not purchase gifts that may offend. There are a multitude of novelty gifts available that could cause offence and give rise to a potential harassment or discrimination claim.
Over indulgence by an employee at a lunchtime or even evening office party may lead to a non attendance at work the following afternoon or day. To ensure consistency and not set a precedent, employers should ensure that such absences are treated in the same way that they would be at any other time of year.
Into the New Year
Employment law as always is evolving for employment lawyers. Whilst it is not currently envisaged there will be quite the extent of changes that there have been in 2013, watch out for the following in 2014;
The Government is proposing in the spring of 2014 to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and remove the current statutory procedure for dealing with this request. The intention will be for employers to have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner with a right to refuse requests on business grounds.
Financial Penalties for Employers who Breach Employment Rights
From April 2014 The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act give Employment Tribunals the power to levy a financial penalty against employers who are in breach of employment rights where the breach has at least one aggravating feature. If the Tribunal makes an award for compensation the amount of the penalty will be between £100 and £5,000, subject to a 50% reduction for payment within 21 days.
Early ACAS Conciliation
It is expected that it will become mandatory from April 2014 for Employment Tribunal Claimants to notify ACAS before a claim is issued. ACAS will then pursue conciliation between the parties for up to one month, with a possible extension of two weeks if there is a reasonable possibility of settlement.
Employers will be familiar with the ongoing plans to make it mandatory for businesses to enrol its workers in to a pension scheme and pay contributions. Companies with at least 250 workers are currently dealing with deadlines for compliance over the past year through to 1 February 2014. For employers with fewer than 250 workers, the deadlines are phased between April 2014 and April 2017.
National Minimum Wage
The standard minimum wage for employees aged 21 and over increased on 1 October 2013 to £6.70 . It is anticipated that there will be the usual annual increase again at the start of October 2014.
A Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all our employment clients.
For advice and assistance in respect of Employment matters contact Nigel Pepper, Consultant or Patrick Nelson, Associate on 01785 211411.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances. (50587)